Dr. Rob Streisfeld, NMD
We all know that anxiety is a serious issue facing society today. Some suggest nearly one in five Americans have been diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder. Anti-anxiolytics, SSRIs and other pharmaceuticals tend to be doled out like candy..with exit strategies or long term safety issues rarely addressed. Medications are given to children, adults and elderly alike with little discrimination. Anxiety costs the U.S. more than $40 Billion annually, which looks to increase as addressing mental health and underlying causes seem to take a back seat to Pharma launching its latest and greatest pill…for the people (aka its customers). It is interesting to note that chronic use of these pharmaceuticals while attempting to resolve an acute issue like anxiety, has been shown to cause more imbalance in the body long term.1
While many reflect on Cannabis as a recreational drug of the ’60s and ’70s, the reality is that this plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years all around the world. From China to India to Greece, numerous ailments have been treated successfully with Cannabis, including anxiety.
Let us not forget the societal propensity to reach for a glass of wine, a cigarette, or perhaps overindulge in sweets as a reactionary move to cope with stress and anxiety. With the resurgence of natural remedies and alternative options, a plant called Cannabis steps back into the spotlight.
Let me stop for a moment and mention that I don’t believe that Cannabis is good for everything, and not all people receive the same benefits or effects. However, research is showing several compounds found in the plant have anti-anxiety properties, including one of the most prevalent and recently popular, Cannabidiol (CBD). Whereas THC, the most popular of Cannabis derived compounds may in fact stimulate the body and lead some individuals toward symptoms of anxiety (stimulating CB1 receptors in the body), CBD seems to calm and protect the nervous system (acting on CB2 receptors).
So what does this mean for you? Commonly heard around the “water-cooler” these days are statements “I can’t smoke pot anymore, it makes me anxious”. While this may hold true for some, here are three possible reasons why this occurs:
THC vs CBD
Over the last 40 or so years, growers of Cannabis have made diligent efforts to increase the percentage of THC found in the plant, while not paying much attention to CBD or other compounds. If THC were to act on receptors and stimulate the body and its sympathetic nervous system, super high levels of THC when smoked may in fact lead some people toward a feeling of anxiety. The THC levels found in marijuana back in the 60’s and 70’s contained much less THC and probably higher levels of CBD. Naturally occurring levels of cannabinoids were more equally balanced back in those “hippie” days. Sure the “high” wasn’t as profound, but neither was the anxiety.
As we get older, we tend to bear an increased sense of responsibility. We have families, children, jobs, bills, etc. The repercussions of our actions, harmful or otherwise, play heavier in our minds. Until Cannabis is legalized, we automatically carry a sense of concern, or anxiety, if we are caught smoking or using Cannabis illegally. The fear of getting into trouble, even arrested, is often far less as a youth than as an adult. This could subconsciously play into anxiety felt when smoking or using Cannabis, especially if it has been a long time since last use.
Compare an average person’s ability to go out for a night of drinking in their 20’s to that same person consuming equal amounts of alcohol in their 40’s. I’d bet 9 out of 10 people would be suffering far greater in their later years. The body’s ability to handle stressors decreases over time and yet stress is inevitable. We are exposed to numerous stressors daily, some which are obvious and many which are not. Our body is designed to help manage stress.. but only to a degree. Constant, chronic stress can wear down the body, internal organs, and overall physiology. With regard to stress, specifically the adrenal glands often carry a tremendous burden as the organs which produce stress related hormones like adrenalin, cortisol and others.
The delivery system when consuming Cannabis can also play a role here with regard to anxiety. If a person smokes, the action of smoking can cause inflammation to the mucosal linings of the throat and lungs, thereby causing a stress reaction to the body and adrenal glands. This causes the body into a “flight or fight” mode which is often mistaken for anxiety. This is why vaping (using a vaporizer to inhale plant oils without fire/smoke), herbal extracts taken orally, and edibles are becoming more and more popular. In fact, some people don’t get as “high” or have the “munchies” as bad when vaping compared to smoking.
Science and our understanding of both the Cannabis plant and our Endocannabinoid system will continue to evolve, and the best uses of this gift from Nature will be identified. We are still just scraping the surface of Cannabis use in modern society. As a Naturopath, I will continue to make every effort to do no harm, to address underlying causes to dis-ease, and to allow the powers of Nature to help us heal. What is probably most important to take home from this article is that Cannabis is both safe and effective, and the side effects, which may include a small amount of anxiety, is nothing to get too anxious about.
Dr Rob Streisfeld is a passionate consumer advocate and educator with over 12 years of Natural Health & Natural Products Industry experience. A Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and Certified Natural Food Chef, “Doc Rob” as widely known, provides an informed and innovative perspective to support healthy choices for individuals, groups, and more. He is also an industry consultant helping with marketing, PR, and other business development needs.
Over the past decade, Doc Rob has helped to identify and expand key health categories such as probiotics, enzymes, whey protein, fermented foods, whole food supplements, and more. His recent passion is rooted in cannabis, cannabinoids, and the benefits they offer.
- Care and Feeding of the Endocannabinoid System: A Systematic Review of Potential Clinical Interventions that Upregulate the Endocannabinoid System. PLOS ONE: Available at: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2fjournal.pone.0089566. Accessed October 22, 2015.
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